Blood, Sweat & Compassion: Kilimanjaro – Day 5 The Ascent

Ascent day was epic, to say the least. It was like Ben Hur, The Odyssey and Lord of the Rings all rolled into one. I will never forget that day.

It is difficult to describe how amazing the summit day was. Words alone cannot do it justice, it must be experienced to fully appreciate how remarkable it was. There were moments of exhilaration and moments of exhaustion. Times of despondency and times of adrenaline fueled highs. Hours and hours of staring up the dark and imposing hill face were followed by captivating minutes of losing myself in the unforgettable views. It really did take my breath away, in more ways than one.

We woke fairly early on Day 5 to get going for a long day ahead of us. An eight hour hike across a barren ridge brought us to the base camp at 4,700 metres high. We arrived at about 4pm, had some dinner and went to sleep. We woke again at 11.30pm, had a breakfast of sorts and assembled in a line ready to begin the hardest six hours of my life! I was already feeling quite rough with altitude sickness. I remember wondering to myself, ‘How was this going to go?’

It was obviously totally pitch black. If you looked up the mountain you could identify groups of other people who had already started their ascent by the snaking lines of headtorches. It was a surreal sight. Most of the time you had no idea how far you had come and how much was left to climb.

At 3am we reached our halfway point. I felt ready to give up. The altitude was making me weaker and weaker. I had fallen back from the main group and was now being cheered on by one of the amazing guides (I have no idea which guide it was). I carried on zig-zagging my way up, just focussing on nothing more than the next step, putting one foot in front of the other.

It was about -15°C and the tube to my water container had frozen up. I was desperate for the sun to rise and warm my back and so that I could see how much further I had to climb. At about 5am the sky started to turn purple and I could just about make out the outline of Gilman’s Point, the first peak at just under 5,700 metres. I remember asking the guide how much further there was and he estimated half an hour. This was it, I couldn’t turn back now, I have to haul my body to that checkpoint.

Those 30 minutes were excruciating but they were also filled with gladness. By now I was covering ground very slowly indeed, resting on my poles every few steps and looking behind me to try and take in as much of the glorious sun rise as I could. I even threw up a few times just for extra epicness!

When I reached the top I was relieved to see some familiar faces. I sat myself down as soon as I could. My head was spinning and I was shivvering pretty badly. Our tour leader, Jackson, said that I was not allowed to continue the extra 200 metres to Uhuru. I wasn’t going to argue with him!

After 5 minutes rest it was straight back down again at quite a pace. I got back to the tent and collapsed onto my sleeping bag. I remember thinking to myself, “what an incredible and crazy experience”. I was absolutely chuffed that I did it and all I could think about was texting my wife to tell her. I had no idea it would be such an emotional experience. The illness was a small price to pay for such an unforgettable moment in my life.

I have never before been so impressed by God’s creation. Jesus Christ is Lord of Kilimanjaro, He is the Lord of the universe and He also humbled himself, even to death on a cross to save me. Over six hours of internal monologue with myself, this amazing truth kept me going higher and higher when I really wanted to turn back around.

Due to my condition during the summit I wasn’t able to do much recording, so the other voice you will hear in this video is from an American colleague.

Sign up for the next Kilimanjaro Challenge.


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6 Responses to Blood, Sweat & Compassion: Kilimanjaro – Day 5 The Ascent

  1. Christina 12/03/2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Great post! As one of the team members from this trip, I can confirm the mix of emotions – complete amazement and exhaustion all at once. Perhaps the exhaustion can be seen by me referring to the sunrise as a ‘sunset’ several times ;) (this is coming from the ‘American colleague’ in the video). Joe, thanks for capturing this experience and sharing it with everyone. -Christina

  2. shion 18/03/2012 at 2:14 pm #

    a translation of the traditional songs sung by the potters and the guides.”Kilimanjaro is Avery high mountain,mawenzi(the other high peak of the mountain)is hard to climb it.jambo(hello)in Swahili,the second tune is a welcoming tune back to the mountain,The mountain being described as a peaceful place and all visitors are welcomed.”

  3. Joe
    Joe Henegan 19/03/2012 at 8:07 am #

    Thanks for the translation Shion! I’ve been wondering about the lyrics ever since.

  4. Vicky Beeching
    Vicky Beeching 21/03/2012 at 8:25 pm #

    That sunset is stunning!!

  5. Hilary Swift
    Hilary Swift 27/04/2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Just re-read this Joe, and it really brought back that amazing experience – thanks so much!


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